By Ria Sahni
Just about every media outlet and social media had an opinion after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on women’s surname status after marriage.
When you get married and want to update your name in the many papers and cards our government requires to have, it’s a breeze. Flash a marriage certificate and it’s done.
The opposite, that is when you are divorced and want to go back to your maiden name, is quite another story. One, few are interested in telling.
When I had to get my passport renewed after my divorce, I chose to go back to my maiden name. The passport officer-in-charge in the Mumbai office insisted on taking my original divorce decree and judgment. I had attested copies, but he refused to accept those. Nowhere in the paperwork or forms did it say I had to give originals, but he wouldn’t listen to anything. Instead, he offered very generously to cancel my application — for which I had flown down from Bangalore especially. When I argued, he looked at me and said, “Kismat aapki, agar problem hai to main application cancel kar deta hu. [It’s your fate, if you have a problem then I can cancel your application].”
I quietly handed over my documents, and applied for fresh originals from the family court. It was easier than explaining to a man who had been rigorously trained under generations of patriarchy as to why he had no business commenting on my “kismat”. When compared to the suffering I had to entail while married, being divorced and constantly singled out by such men feels like the better option.
“Are there any issues,” my divorce judge had asked me. It was a perplexing question, given I was there to get a divorce. Of course, there were issues. Countless of them. Or actually, when you look at in minute detail, perhaps just one. As I started to list them out, mumbling “mutual incompatibility”, my lawyer gently put her hand on my arm and said, “He means are there any children from the marriage.” Everyone laughed nervously and a few minutes later I was out of the Bandra Family Court, with a new status — a divorcee.
It is a status that has changed the way I am viewed by that beast called society, irrevocably. It’s the little square box I now tick in forms and it earns me a scornful glare from the passport officer. It is the basis of the pitying look I get from the bank officer, who shrugs her shoulders, burying me under a mountain of paperwork for a name change in my account. I am a statistic, with bureaucratic rules not in my favour.
When I apply for a visa, I have to submit my marriage certificate, divorce decree and judgement. And I realise that the ex-husband doesn’t need to. He was already engaged while we were in the middle of court proceedings, his Facebook status changed a month later to “married”. His social status was reconfigured just like that.
It’s now taking me endless emails and calls to ICICI Lombard to get my health policy changed to my maiden name. They first agreed, got me to renew my policy, and then reneged on that stand. Now several emails and calls later, they are “verifying” and “considering” it and will get back to me.
Piles of paperwork are needed for the change of name in my PAN card. The income tax department’s line is constantly engaged, their e-service doesn’t work on most days for online name change application, the e-letter they sent in response to my application “failed to load”, and so I am now stuck running to figure this out. Without this, banks are notoriously unhelpful when it comes to linking accounts or changing names. With that, let’s see how accommodating they are.
So right now, Aadhaar is the least of my troubles. Because honestly, once you’re divorced in this country, it’s just being bludgeoned by more and more paperwork. Because, meri kismat after all.